China Anne McClain | Sunday Observer

China Anne McClain

28 February, 2021

China Anne McClain was ten years old when she met her best friend. Aside from her two sisters, Cameron Boyce, who would become her co-star in Disney’s wildly popular Descendants film series after working with him on the 2010 comedy Grown Ups, was one of her closest friends. He was her chosen family, a confidant in an industry that has little empathy toward child stars. In July 2019 when he suddenly passed away from a fatal seizure, everything changed for China.

At 22, China now is the living embodiment of Ntozake Shange’s immortal words, “I found God in myself, and I loved her. I loved her fiercely.” China didn’t exactly say it that way, but it’s hard not to get chills when she talks about how she is changing her mindset, once tainted by insecurities, grappling with grief, and stepping into who she wants to be. That latter part is still in development, but the China we know today — the one we love watching on TikTok and the CW’s Black Lightning — started coming into this more self-described positive version of herself when she made the decision to cut her hair off.

Freedom

In the case of China’s big chop, the ubiquitous Coco Chanel quote about what happens when women cut their hair is true.

“It really did change [my life]. It gave me this feeling of freedom that I hadn’t felt previously. The only feeling I felt that compares to that type of freedom is finding God and building a relationship with him,” China tells Teen Vogue over the phone. “I never would’ve cut it when I was younger for a few different reasons. It was a security blanket to me. I was a Black girl with long hair, it was down my back and I always had people commenting on it like, ‘Is all that your hair? It’s so pretty?’ but at some point, I realised that I was hiding behind it for that reason.”

China also literally hid behind her hair due to acne, which she was able to hide under her tresses, and it stopped her from doing things that she wanted to do, like going swimming for example.

“I would have to spend three hours doing my hair afterward. So, it was holding me back, I felt, in a lot of ways, emotionally, spiritually, and just from doing some of the things I wanted to do when I wanted to do them,” explains China.

Then one day, her confidence arrived. Inspiration struck, she cut her hair, and she has no plans on growing it back any time soon. “My family was so supportive of me, and it was a whole year before I actually told the world and my fans that I cut it off,” she chirps.

Cameron’s loss

She made her public debut with her new look at San Diego Comic-Con summer 2019. At that time, the pain of losing Cameron was new and she was still learning how to navigate life as a public figure bogged down by grief. She posted a tearful video on social media explaining how profoundly impacted she was by Cameron’s loss. Today, nearly two years later, it’s still hard for her to talk about and she nearly comes to tears while breaking down what it feels like to still be working through grief.

“Cameron was my first time really coming in contact with death when it came to somebody I really loved and knew closely. I didn’t really know how to handle it,” says China. “It was just like he was here one day and gone the next and I had to wrap my mind around the fact that I would never see him in this life again. I’m still dealing with that, to be honest. I don’t think I’m ever going to not deal with that. But I adore him. I love him; I still do. I always will.”

As a woman of faith, China is content that Cameron is in “the place that she’s trying to get to one day,” and while she is open to talking about most things, there are some things she’d rather keep to herself, particularly about her continued friendship with Cameron. He’s not here physically, but he lingers in her heart and still makes his presence known every now and then.

“I have stories I want to keep to myself. I don’t know if I’m going to tell anybody, but I know that he’s around,” says China. “I’m proud of the life that he lived and I’m pretty sure that everybody who knew him could say the same thing, but I mostly find myself thinking about his family because they lost something that the rest of us didn’t.”

Lesson

One of the biggest lessons that Cameron taught her was to let go. The concept of releasing unnecessary baggage is part of how she is able to move on in an industry that often makes it difficult to feel human.

“I was so tied up in working, working, working, and getting ahead. And I was so tied up in that because I really do love acting. I don’t like this industry, but I love creating things, creating art,” she explains. “And whether it be acting, singing, dancing, painting, sketching, sculpting, I love all of those things and I do them in my free time. So, I just think [Cameron’s death] made me step back, and now I don’t live for those things anymore. I don’t live for, ‘Let me make sure I accomplish this and let me work, work, work, work.’ Now, I just focus on the things around me and focus on this moment and put it on God and my family and whatever happens with the industry happens. I’m just going to keep creating things.”

She shares that one of the most ultimate tests of her faith came when God told her it was time to step away from Black Lightning just before shooting what is now its fourth and final season. China says she got the message before anyone knew the show was going into its last season. Shortly after she made peace with trusting the divine revelation that it was time to leave, it was announced that Black Lightning was ending as we know it, giving way to spinoffs featuring certain characters.

The global pandemic has slowed life down for everyone, but China is okay with that. She is obviously still working, but her true idea of fun is staying home kicking it with her family and/or friends, making TikTok videos, which she’s really good at, or playing Among Us with her fans. She also continues to nurture her creative passions, which include, singing, sculpting, dancing, painting, and most importantly, faith. All of the above have kept her grounded in a chaotic industry known for breaking too many visionaries before their time. She’s confident that she is headed in the way she should go.

“I haven’t always been as close to [God] as I am now, but he’s the main reason why I have peace when I’m not on a set somewhere,” China says. “Because I only used to have peace when I was somewhat distracted when I was working and kind of working and operating on autopilot. But I don’t do that anymore. I can sit alone and be with my thoughts and be with myself and have peace in this indescribable joy because I know God now.”

“It’s about perspective a lot of times because I was focusing on a lot of the wrong things and valued a lot of the wrong things over things that I should have been focusing on in valuing. So now I’m just able to enjoy life without trying to rush everything and get ahead. Get ahead to what? Just live.”

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KENDALL BESSENT

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